Thursday, May 5, 2011

Is Time Running Out?

On Tuesday, we headed to the West Bank to meet with Palestinians and hear firsthand what the occupation is like. We drove through a checkpoint right outside of Jerusalem and entered Bethlehem.

We parked the bus and walked a bit along the security wall Israel built as part of its disengagement from portions of the West Bank. The security wall/fence has been credited with virtually eliminating suicide attacks emanating from the West Bank. It has also cutoff Palestinians from their land and worked to make daily life in the West Bank even more difficult. Israel currently retains 60 percent of the West Bank, known as Area C, in which Palestinians are not allowed to enter. Areas A and B are reserved for Palestinians, who cannot enter Israel, except for a very few, and even they must navigate a Kafkaesque bureaucratic regime. Israel retains "security" control over Area B, and while the Palestinians have "security" control over Area A, Israel makes incursions into Area A on a regular basis.

We spoke with Sami Bahour, a Palestinian-American who showed us the half dozen permits and id cards he needed to be able to visit Jerusalem, about 10 minutes away. He also related his 15 year effort, ultimately successful, to obtain residency status from Israel - not to live in Israel, but  to live in the West Bank. Until that point, he was forced to leave and return to the West Bank every three months, never sure that he would be permitted to return. (The next day, we had lunch with him and other business leaders in Ramallah, and heard how the occupation stifles their economic growth.)

We spoke with another Palestinian, Ali Awad, the leader of a "popular resistance movement," the term he uses for non-violent resistance. He had been jailed for 4 years, and his brother had been killed by an Israeli soldier. He is part of a movement of bereaved families - Israeli and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict  - who seek peace.

The sense I got from both of these men was that they had enough of Israel, enough of the occupation, and enough of negotiations which have failed to get them their state, and that they were determined to stay their non-violent course. But they clearly signaled that it was only a matter of time before they started demanding, not independence, but full civil rights as citizens of Israel.

Which brings me to Ami Ayalon, former Shin Bet director and former Commander of the Israeli Navy. We met him for dinner in Tiberias last night and afterwards he presented us with his analsyis of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. (For those who don't know, Israel and the US maintain relations with Fatah. Hamas, however does not recognize Israel and calls for its destruction. Neither Israel nor the US will speak directly with Hamas. Now that these two Palestinian factions have reconciled and formed a unity government there is a serious question of what sort of relations and cooperation Israel and the US will have with the Palestinians.)

Ayalon presented one possible scenario, one in which Israel advances no initiative of its own and the Palestinians go to the UN and seek international recognition of an independent state along the 1967 borders. In this scenario, Israel would face condemnation by much of the world, as well as economic and other sanctions, and eventually renewed violence. This he called the "realistic" scenario.

He presented a second scenario, which he termed "pessimistic." In this scenario, the Palestinians simply conclude that a two-state solution is not achievable and demand full citizenship rights in Israel - exactly what Bahour and Awad were signaling. This could very well spell the end of the Zionist enterprise.

Ayalon posited a third way. Here, he spoke of the need for Israel to formulate its own initiative. In this regard, he and other former members of the Israeli security establishment, have put forward what they have termed the Israeli Peace Initiative, which provides for the creation of independent Palestinian state roughly along the 1967 borders.

It's not at all clear which if any of these scenarios will play out. But clearly the status quo will not hold, and so I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.


  1. So far, it seems the group is only hearing male speakers/experts... or have I missed some women who were part of the program?

  2. We also met with a Palestinian woman whose land had been largely expropriated by Israel. And we will be meeting with Tzipi Livni on Sunday and MK Zuaretz had dinner with us this evening, along with several other Israeli pols.